A tragic reminder of sudden mishaps

Last updated 13:00 23/01/2014
sarah macdonald
SAD REMINDER: Coroner Carla na Nagara said the death of Sarah MacDonald in Tapawera showed how tragically things can go wrong for young riders of motorbikes.

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Little Sarah MacDonald was excited about riding her family's mini-motorcycle.

When her mother said she could ride the bike, the 5-year-old raced around the family home in Tapawera getting her safety gear together, including her horse riding boots and a well-fitting helmet.

It was her first ride on the bike, although she had previously ridden another 50cc motorbike and a 50cc quad bike. However, it was also to be her last.

Sarah died when the bike revved and she crashed into a wire fence on April 29, 2012.

Coroner Carla na Nagara has now released her findings that Sarah died from serious neck and spinal injuries suffered when she lost control of the throttle, presumably in panic, and collided with the fence.

Ms na Nagara said the death was a very sad reminder of how quickly, and how tragically, things could go wrong for such young riders of motorcycles.

She said it was established that Sarah had previous experience riding small motorbikes and quad bikes.

On the day of the fatal crash, Sarah's stepfather John checked her safety equipment, then took her outside and taught her about the bike.

At first, she rode the bike with its engine off down the property's sloping sealed driveway, to get used to the brakes and steering. She did this a few times, getting faster and faster.

They then went into a paddock, and Sarah rode around in big loops, with John following her initially. Her 12-year-old brother Isaac was also running beside her.

Her stepfather described how she was "just cruising and was slowing down on corners", and he was proud that she was not getting carried away.

"She then went past me, and I heard the bike throttle rev a couple of times. She looked at me with a big, cheeky smile.

"Then the throttle revved up to full noise, for some unknown reason. The bike never wobbled or shaked.

"Sarah appeared to be frozen on it. She rode straight into a nearby fence."

The top wire of the fence appeared to catch Sarah across the neck and chest, and she and the bike did a backwards flip around the wire before coming to rest on the opposite side of the fence. She was declared dead at the scene.

Ms na Nagara said it was entirely possible, given Sarah's age and inexperience, that she simply panicked, and lacked the maturity and presence of mind to respond appropriately to the situation.

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"There is nothing to suggest that there was a lack of care or oversight on the day the accident happened, but it is noted that these vehicles do pose significant risk to young riders when things go wrong."

Police who investigated the accident were satisfied that the circumstances were not suspicious, and no charges were laid.

- The Nelson Mail

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